That’ll Be The Day: Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Everly Brothers, and Linda Ronstadt

Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider That’ll Be The Day. This is a great ‘roots’ rock song from the 50s. We will review the original version by Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and covers of that song by the Everly Brothers and Linda Ronstadt. We will also throw in a ‘surprise bonus audio’ clip.

Buddy Holly and That’ll Be The Day:

Charles “Buddy” Holley was one of the all-time great ‘roots’ rockers. He grew up in Lubbock, Texas where he learned to play guitar and aspired to be a musician. Although his initial exposure was to country musicians such as Hank Williams and Bob Wills, Buddy was also drawn to the late-night stations that played blues and R&B music.

Here are the Crickets, from L: Joe Mauldin, Buddy Holly and Jerry Allison, taken on their UK tour.

Embed from Getty Images

Buddy began to play various venues in the South, and gained some exposure opening for artists such as Elvis and Bill Haley and the Comets. This took him to Nashville, where he signed a record contract and produced some work in the studio. To his surprise, the label on his first record misspelled his name as “Buddy Holly,” so that became his stage name.

Unfortunately, during that period Buddy’s producers attempted to shoe-horn him into the rather restrictive country-and-western “Nashville sound.” This turned out to be a bad fit for Buddy’s talent, and after leaving Nashville he eventually made his way to Clovis, New Mexico, where he hooked up with producer Norman Petty.

There Buddy assembled a band consisting of drummer Jerry Allison, bassist Bill Mauldin and rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan. Buddy sang vocals, played lead electric guitar, and wrote most of the group’s songs. It might be worth noting that rock and roll directly followed the ‘big band’ era, so in the early days rock bands experimented with various combinations of instruments. For example, Bill Haley and the Comets had an accordion player in their ensemble!

In many ways, Buddy Holly and the Crickets were pioneers in what became the ‘classic’ rock group lineup – two guitars, bass and drums. The group began to record a collection of original songs and covers, beginning with the tune That’ll Be The Day written by Holly and Allison.

The idea for the song arose when Holly, Allison and Sonny Curtis took in the John Wayne movie The Searchers in June, 1956. One of Wayne’s lines in the film featured him saying, “That’ll be the day.” The phrase appealed to Holly and Allison, who wrote a song centered around this sarcastic comment.

Their song describes a conversation between the singer and his lover. He ridicules her statements that she is likely to leave him, claiming “that’ll be the day when I die.”

Well, that’ll be the day, when you say goodbye
Yes, that’ll be the day, when you make me cry
You say you’re gonna leave, you know it’s a lie
‘Cause that’ll be the day when I die

Well, you give me all your lovin’ and your turtle dovin’
All your hugs and kisses and your money too
Well, you know you love me baby
Until you tell me, maybe
That some day, well I’ll be through

Buddy Holly’s Nashville record contract prohibited him from releasing songs written under his Decca Records contract for five years, and That’ll Be The Day had been written during his Decca days. To avoid potential legal problems, the band chose the name The Crickets, and issued their first record under that title.

That’ll Be The Day was released in May, 1957. It picked up some momentum, and then shot up to the top of the Billboard charts in November of that year. It simultaneously hit #1 on the UK pop charts.

So, here are Buddy Holly and the Crickets performing their breakout hit, That’ll Be The Day, on the Ed Sullivan Show from December 1, 1957.

What a great, seminal rock tune! Buddy is up front, with his trademark black glasses, playing his signature Fender Stratocaster guitar. The song is a rockabilly classic, which starts off running with a memorable guitar lick, and keeps up the pace throughout the song, which comes in well under two minutes.

Holly’s guitar work was simple but effective. His solos often consisted of just a few chords or some straightforward finger-picking, but they fit perfectly with the group’s style.

That’ll Be The Day began a hectic two-year stream of hits from Buddy Holly. The group’s second song, Peggy Sue, was released less than a month after That’ll Be The Day, and it also hit #1 on the charts.

It immediately became clear that Buddy Holly was the creative genius behind The Crickets. They became known as Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and soon afterwards Buddy was issuing solo albums.

As Buddy Holly’s star continued to rise, tensions arose between him and the other members of the Crickets, and between Holly and producer Norman Petty. This was a shame, as at the beginning of their association, Holly and Petty collaborated to produce a ‘signature sound’ for Buddy, and the group created a stream of classic rock music songs.

Petty had success with other Southwestern pop artists, could produce a great sound in his studio, and brought many creative ideas to this collaboration. However, Petty controlled the royalties from Holly’s songs, and at some point Buddy and his young bride, Maria Elena Santiago, began to question whether Petty was adequately compensating them.

When Holly split with Petty, this left Buddy with a cash-flow problem, since Petty was holding onto Holly’s royalties. This forced Holly back onto the road in the winter of 1959, when he set off on a “Winter Dance Party” tour.

The artists on this tour were traveling around the upper Midwest in January, 1959. Their tour buses were badly heated and also began breaking down. In Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered a private plane to take him to the next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota.

The plane took off in bad weather, then crashed into a cornfield just outside Clear Lake. The pilot, Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) were all killed instantly, in a tragedy that became known as “The Day the Music Died.”

Buddy Holly’s untimely death was a major setback for rock music. He had proved to be a prolific and creative musician, having recorded more than 50 songs in just over two years. At the time of his death, he was clearly moving in new directions, as he had branched out from his earlier rockabilly tunes to include acoustic songs and ballads.

In addition, Holly was thinking of incorporating elements of flamenco songs into his repertoire, and he was discussing potential collaborations with artists like Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson.

Although Buddy Holly’s recording career was tragically short-lived, he had an enormous influence on the future of rock music. The Crickets were an inspiration for groups such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones – in fact, the Beatles’ choice of an insect-related band name was a shout-out to Buddy’s band The Crickets. As a singer-songwriter, Buddy Holly set an example subsequently followed by artists like Lennon-McCartney and Jagger-Richards.

The Quarrymen and That’ll Be The Day:

OK, here is your ‘surprise bonus audio.’ This is a tape of That’ll Be The Day recorded by the British skiffle group The Quarrymen on July 14, 1958. The song was intended as a demonstration disc, and was recorded at Percy Phillips’ studio in Liverpool.

The Quarry-Men in the late 50s. From L: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison.

The Quarry-Men in the late 50s. From L: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison.

At left is a shot of The Quarrymen in the late 1950s. From L: Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first recording by the group that was to become The Beatles. It features John Lennon on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Paul McCartney on bass, George Harrison on lead guitar, Colin Hanton on drums and John “Duff” Lowe on piano.

Not surprisingly, the original demo disc from this session is highly prized.
The one and only 1958 pressing is thought to be one of the world’s most valuable records, worth an estimated £100,000
So here is the audio of The Quarrymen performing That’ll Be The Day.

Since the Beatles subsequently went on to become the most successful pop group in history, this recording has great historical value. My question to you is: from this tape, can you deduce that this group will eventually be acclaimed as the greatest of all time?

My answer would have to be: “Heck, no.” To me, the Quarrymen sound much like a million other garage bands, with the one exception that John Lennon clearly has a promising voice. I would describe the instrumental sections as rather lame, and I see no signs that the ensemble has outstanding potential.

Had this group come into my studio at that time, there is no way I would have offered them a recording contract. Oh well, I guess that’s just one more reason why I never made a fortune in the music business.

The Everly Brothers and That’ll Be The Day:

Don and Phil Everly were brothers who grew up in Shenandoah, Iowa. As young children, they began performing with their parents’ Everly Family singers as “Little Donnie and Baby Boy Phil.” The legendary close harmony singing for which the brothers became famous was a result of years of performing together.

When the brothers were in high school, the family moved to Tennessee and Don and Phil were hired as songwriters by Acuff-Rose music publishers. The duo had their first big hit in 1957 with Bye Bye Love. That song was written by the wife-and-husband team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, and was notable because it had been rejected by 30 other groups before the Everlys took it on.

Bye Bye Love became a smash cross-over hit. It reached #1 on the Country charts, #2 on the pop listings and #5 in the R&B category! With Don singing the baritone lead and Phil tenor harmony, the pair’s exceptional melodies, delivered in diatonic thirds, seemed irresistible.

The Everly Brothers formed a most profitable association with Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who wrote over a score of songs that Don and Phil turned into hits. Don and Phil also formed a close relationship with Buddy Holly and the Crickets. The two groups toured together in 1957 and 1958, and one shared experience was that each group had started out in country music, before hitting the big time as country-pop crossovers.

So here are Don and Phil Everly performing That’ll Be The Day.

The video says that this was `taped for TV in 1960,’ but I suspect that this is incorrect. The Everly Brothers released That’ll Be the Day as a single in 1965. They performed that song on the March 10, 1965 episode of the TV show Shindig, and the set certainly looks like that show, with the Shindig Dancers silhouetted in the background.

For comparison, below is a photo of Don and Phil appearing on a later episode of Shindig on June 9, 1965.

Embed from Getty Images

Regardless of when it was filmed, it’s great to see the Everlys singing a song written by their old pal Buddy Holly. The tempo is much slower than the Crickets’ original, and the video quality is horrendous, but Don and Phil show off their wonderful voices here. The Everly Brothers’ cover had only modest success – it made it to #30 in the UK pop charts in 1965 – but I really enjoy it.

When Neil Young introduced the Everlys at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 1986, he
observed that every musical group he belonged to had tried and failed to copy the Everly Brothers’ harmonies.
The Everly Brothers were an inspiration to dozens of pop groups who followed after them.
The Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Simon & Garfunkel developed their early styles by performing Everly covers. The Bee Gees, the Hollies, and other rock ‘n’ roll groups that feature harmony singing were also influenced.

After Phil Everly’s death in January, 2014, Paul Simon issued a statement that said
“Phil and Don were the most beautiful sounding duo I ever heard. Both voices pristine and soulful. The Everlys were there at the crossroads of country and R&B. They witnessed and were part of the birth of rock and roll.”

Linda Ronstadt and That’ll Be The Day:

We previously discussed Linda Ronstadt in our blog post on the Chuck Berry song Back in the U.S.A. So here we will briefly review Ronstadt’s career and her work.

Linda Ronstadt is one of the most successful women artists in rock history. She has a stunning number of albums to her credit and has sold over 100 million records. In the process, she has garnered a slew of awards and honors, culminating with her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. Ronstadt is an exceptionally versatile artist; she has collaborated with artists in the fields of rock, country, jazz and Hispanic music.

Linda Ronstadt was born in Tucson where her grandfather had emigrated from Germany, married a Mexican and became a prosperous rancher and early settler in Arizona. She began her performing career in the mid-60s as the lead singer in a folk-rock-country trio, The Stone Poneys.

However, she became a blockbuster star in the 70s, when she produced a series of best-selling albums, produced posters that found their way onto the walls of millions of impressionable teen-age boys, and could fill up venues on stadium tours with fellow West Coast folk-rockers such as The Eagles, Jackson Browne and The Doors.

Here is a photo of a sultry Linda Ronstadt performing in the late 70s.

Embed from Getty Images

Here is film of Linda Ronstadt on one of her stadium concerts. This video was shot during a 1976 tour in Offenbach, Germany. I really like the concert footage here: Ronstadt has a rocking backup band, and she belts out the Buddy Holly standard.

Fun, huh? This is a great Tex-Mex cover of That’ll Be The Day. The song is a lot more raucous than The Crickets’ original, and Linda is definitely enjoying it.

I especially like the arrangement of this classic tune. The song seems to be quite effective, despite the fact that the gender of the singer has been flipped. Also, it seems to me that Ronstadt’s take on this song was likely influenced by the Everly Brothers’ cover.

Nearly all Ronstadt’s hits were covers of standards by classic country-rock artists such as Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison. However, her songs tended to feature creative arrangements and catchy hook-filled production values. Plus, being marketed as a sex symbol certainly didn’t hurt Linda in a business dominated by male artists.

In recent years Ronstadt had concentrated on albums of traditional Mexican folk songs that she remembered from her youth. However in 2011 Ronstadt announced her retirement from performing and in 2013 revealed that she had contracted Parkinson’s disease which prevents her from singing. We miss your performances, Linda!

Source Material:
Wikipedia, That’ll Be The Day
Wikipedia, Buddy Holly
Wikipedia, The Quarrymen
Wikipedia, The Everly Brothers
Wikipedia, Linda Ronstadt

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. From 2002 to 2018, he and his wife shared their college-town experiences with two delightful cats, siblings Lewis and Clark, who enormously enriched their lives. Together with his colleague Steven Vigdor, Tim is co-author of a blog "Debunking Denial," that discusses the difference between skepticism and denial as manifested in various current issues. He is also co-founder of "Concerned Scientists of Indiana University," a group that supports evidence-based science, funding for science research, and policies based on the best available scientific information. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
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8 Responses to That’ll Be The Day: Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Everly Brothers, and Linda Ronstadt

  1. Thom Hickey says:

    Thanks Tim – informative and entertaining. If you havent read it checkout my Everlys tribute on the Jukebox. Thom


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